Thanks to advances in technology and the increasing ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, the global mobile health (mHealth) market is expected to reach $23 billion by 2017, according to a recent GSMA and PwC report. And as tech-savvy companies increasingly answer the call for these technologies that facilitate affordable healthcare in developing countries and personal health management for patients worldwide, they're increasingly putting their heads in the clouds to find innovative new solutions.
Cloud-based solutions further expand the possibilities for mHealth applications through such potential advantages as cost-efficiency, easy and convenient access, and storage capacity. "Mobile devices have limited computational capacity, so using cloud computing to help offload some of the processing allows greater flexibility in applications," according to healthcare, IT, and government blogger Brian Ahier. "With Web-based applications optimized for mobile viewing, this opens up possibilities for tablet and smartphone use in ways not previously available. Combining cloud computing and mHealth makes for ubiquitous computing that allows the health data to be available where and when it's needed." Of course, as with any new technology, there are some current stumbling blocks; legal and regulatory challenges abound with cloud computing for healthcare purposes.
Despite these challenges, however, several healthcare pioneers are already leveraging cloud computing for mHealth purposes. A few weeks ago, for example, Swiss healthcare technology company LifeWatch AG debuted the LifeWatch V, which it heralds to be the first-of-its kind healthcare smartphone. Operable on an Android OS, the product employs cloud-based services, embedded sensors, an array of health tests and apps, test result delivery, historical data analysis, and physician connectivity to enhance wellness tracking and management.
"By using the barely visible sensors on the phone’s frame, patients as well as health- and wellbeing-conscious consumers can track, capture, collect, and analyze their health and medical measurements anywhere, anytime," according to the company. "The features include ECG, body temperature, blood glucose, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, body fat percentage, and stress levels (heart rate variability). All collected data can be retrieved from the cloud for a follow-up anytime, anywhere. Users can thus take corrective action, plan their diets and activities, securely share the information with a health provider or family member, trend and analyze the data, and more. Patients are also able to program the unit to remind them of their drug type, dose, and intake time."
As noted, 'the cloud' plays a pivotal role in the device, as test results are automatically sent to and stored in a remote server in the cloud. Data saved to the cloud can then be analyzed and shared, as desired.
Also looking to the cloud to support mHealth technology is a team of students that recently competed and generated substantial buzz in Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition. Competing in the international software design contest representing Australia, the students developed the StethoCloud, "an intelligent, cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope" designed to diagnose early-stage pneumonia in children.
"By connecting a stethomic to a Windows Phone 7 smartphone, a community health worker or unskilled administrator is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service that analyzes a patient's breathing sounds for patterns that represent the earliest stages of pneumonia," according to the team's official project description. "StethoCloud reproduces the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor and is able to detect, alert, and advise those with little or no awareness of pneumatic or respiratory illness as to the seriousness of a child’s condition and force intervention much earlier, and in effect, save millions of lives a year."
It looks like having your head in the clouds may not be a bad thing at all for the healthcare industry. --Shana Leonard